Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced a strategy to address the country’s mental health crisis, which has reached staggering levels amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The multi-pronged plan proposed several approaches, including strengthening system capacity, connecting Americans to care and creating healthy environments for the population.
Telehealth also plays a major role in the path forward, with the president noting the safety and efficacy of virtual care in behavioral services.
“To maintain continuity of access, the administration will work with Congress to ensure coverage of tele-behavioral health across health plans, and support appropriate delivery of telemedicine across state lines,” said the president’s office in a fact sheet.
“At the same time, the HHS will create a learning collaborative with state insurance departments to identify and address state-based barriers, like telehealth limitations, to behavioral health access.
And the United States Office of Personnel Management will facilitate widespread, confidential, and easy access to telehealth services, in part by strongly encouraging Federal Employees Health Benefits Program carriers to sufficiently reimburse providers for telehealth services, and to eliminate or reduce co-payments for consumers seeking tele-mental service,” the fact sheet continued.
Clinical psychologist Luke Raymond, head of U.S. Health Systems Strategic Business Unit at SilverCloud Health, spoke with Healthcare IT News about the strategy from his perspective as a trained therapist and a leader in the digital mental health sphere – and why he believes telehealth delivery alone won’t solve the provider shortage.
Q. What role can telehealth play in bridging the gap between demand and supply for behavioral care?
A. Behavioral health lends itself well to virtual delivery, thus has historically been the specialty leading the way in virtual care.
Additionally, telehealth plays an important role in improving access to behavioral healthcare, particularly in rural and other underserved populations.
However, the provider shortage within behavioral health is so significant [that] a transition to telehealth delivery alone is not scalable to meet the ever-growing demand for mental health services.
A truly positive impact requires a paradigm shift that leverages digital and virtual tools to unlock provider capacity, create innovative care models and democratize psychiatric expertise across care settings.
Q. Do you see Biden’s plan for virtual care as being effective in addressing mental health needs? Are there improvements that should be made in this regard?
A. President Biden’s plan for expanding both virtual health and mental health services will have a positive impact. Having an American president highlight mental health as a priority is a great leap forward in addressing mental health needs in the United States.
It’s important to remember that mental health was at a crisis level even before the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued to exacerbate dramatically over the past two years resulting in unprecedented levels of both prevalence and acuity of mental health conditions.
While the Biden administration’s focus on mental health has raised visibility into the crisis and will create opportunities for care expansion, ongoing long-term bipartisan legislative support will be critical in effecting meaningful and lasting improvement in the nation’s mental health.
Q. So what considerations should be made when it comes to expanding access to mental health care?
Where to begin! There are so many considerations that can make or break a successful expansion of mental health care.
Consumer choice, regulatory and compliance questions, and the overwhelming demand for mental health services should all be top of mind as we move forward with expanding mental health services.
Further, though the pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health for all age groups, it has been especially challenging for children and youth. How digital and virtual interventions can be delivered to young people will become increasingly important.
Additionally, because access to mental health resources has been so historically poor, there has not been enough time, energy and effort aimed toward critical factors such as health equity, cultural competence and diversity, and inclusion.
An expansion of mental health resources should focus on training and continuing education for existing providers as well as embedding this content into training programs for mental health providers, so that all populations have access to culturally appropriate mental health resources.